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Full text of "The relation of time and eternity [microform]"

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AUTHOR: 



McTAGGART, JOHN 

McTAGGART ELLIS 



TITLE: 



THE RELATION OF TIME 
AND ETERNITY 

PLACE: 

BERKELEY 

DA TE : 

1908 



COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES 
PRESERVATION DEPARTMENT 

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.VcTaecart, John HcT'ir-p.art Ellis, 1866-1926. 

The relation of tino an i eternity ^h^-, John 
lis UoTaccprU Borkeloy, University press, 190b. 



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Acldron;: borore the l^hilosophical union of the 
Univoi-aity or CaUPornia, August 23, 1907. 

■Roprinto.l r.-'.,. M., Uv.ivori-ity of California 
chroniclo, vol.. in, no. 2. 

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THE RELATION OF TINE AND ETERNITY 






JOHN ELLIS MCTAGGART 



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UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA 



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THE RELATION OF TIME AND ETERNITY 



JOHN ELLLIS McTAGGART 



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[Reprinted from the Univiesitt of Califoenia Cheoniclb Vol. X, No. 2] 



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THE RELATION OF TIME AND ETERNITY.* 



John Ellis McTaggart. 



1. The true nature of Time, and especially the question 
how far it is absolutely real, have been much discussed in 
philosophy. But there is, I think, no ambiguity in speaking 
of Time. Everyone means by Time the same characteristic 
of experience — a characteristic present in the experience of 
each of us. 

Time, however, does not admit of definition. There are, 
indeed, several general qualities which we can ascribe to it. 
We can say, for example, that it forms a single series, and 
an irreversible series. But these predicates, and any others 
we can add to them, do not form an adequate definition of 
Time. Something might have all of them, and yet not be 
Time. And thus we must say that Time does not admit of 
definition. If a person has not got the idea of Time, no 
combination of other ideas will give it to him. 

2. Eternity is a more ambiguous word. It is used in at 
least three distinct senses: to denote unending time, to de- 
note the timelessness of truths, and to denote the timeless- 
ness of existences. 

The first sense need not detain us long. It is admitted 
to be a rather improper use of the word, and is only im- 
portant on account of its frequency. The great majority 
of people, for example, who say that they believe that they 
will live eternally, do not mean that they believe in a time- 
less life, but that they believe in a life in time which will 

• Address before the Philosophical Union of the University of 
California, August 23, 1907. 



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never end. This is not the only idea in the popular concep- 
tion of immortality, nor the best, but it is the most common. 
In this sense the relation of Eternity to Time is, of course, 
very simple. Time — finite Time — is simply a part of Eter- 
nity. 

We pass on to the deeper meanings of Eternity. But 
first I should wish to say that, although it may be a shallow 
view of Eternity to see nothing in it but unending Time, yet 
I cannot regard the question of unending existence in time 
with the contempt with which it is sometimes treated. If, 
for example, it were proved that the true nature of man was 
timelessly eternal, yet I cannot see that the question of his 
future existence in time would be either unmeaning or un- 
important. It would, on any theory, have as much meaning 
as the statement of his present existence in time — which may 
be partially inadequate, but has certainly some meaning. 
And it may very well have great importance. This, how- 
ever, is a digression. 

3. The second sense in which Eternity is used is to de- 
note that timelessness which is said to be possessed by all 
general laws, and, indeed, by all truths, particular as well 
as general. * * The angles of a triangle are equal to two right 
angles.'' *'The flash of a distant cannon is seen before its 
report is heard.'' **The date of the Battle of Waterloo is 
the 18th of June, 1815. " Of these truths the last two have 
reference to time, and the third is not a general law, but a 
particular fact. Yet, it is said, all three truths are timeless. 
Any man's knowledge of them, indeed, is an event in time. 
It begins at a certain moment, and has a certain duration. 
And there may well have been times when none of these 
truths was known to any person. But the truth, it is said, 
must be distinguished both from our knowledge of it, which 
is in time, and the subject-matter referred to, which may be 
in time. And the truth, it is said, is always timeless. 

There is much to be said for this view ; but also, I think, 
something to be said against it. I do not propose to discuss 



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it here. It would take us too far, and is not essential for 
our purpose. For, if we define Eternity in this manner, the 
relation of Eternity to Time is very simple. It is simply 
the relation of a truth to the subject-matter of the truth. 
About every substance existing in time, and about every 
event in time, however slight or ephemeral, many proposi- 
tions — indeed, an infinite number of propositions — ^will be 
true. And since, on this view, nothing that exists will be 
eternal, but only the truths about them, the relation between 
Eternity and Time will simply be a case of the relation be- 
tween a truth and the reality of which it is true. What that 
relation is, constitutes, indeed, a highly interesting question. 
But the special natures of Eternity and Time will not enter 
into it. 

Nor does the establishment of an Eternity, in this sense, 
give us any fresh view of the nature of reality, or afford us 
a glimpse of any greater permanence or stability in the uni- 
verse than appears on a prima facie view of experience. 
Everything, no doubt, has on this view a certain connection 
with Eternity. But everything has exactly the same con- 
nection, and that without any transformation of its nature, 
but taking it just as it appears. We can look at ourselves 
sub quadam specie aetemitatis, for each of us exists, and the 
truth of his existence is eternal. But then — for an hour or 
two — a bridge-party exists, and it can be looked at sub 
quadam specie aetemitatis, as easily as a human being. 
And so can the bubbles in a glass of soda-water — I do not 
mean the substance of the water, but the shape which it 
assumes for a moment. 

And even events have the same timelessness. If I 
sneezed on last Christmas day, the truth which expresses 
that event is, in this meaning of Eternity, as eternal as 
the truth of love, or of man's existence, or of God's exist- 
ence, if he exist. No person and no thing are eternal on 
this view. But about everything, permanent, ephemeral, 
high and low, there are infinite eternal truths. The con- 



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never end. This is not the only idea in the popular concep- 
tion of immortality, nor the best, but it is the most common. 
In this sense the relation of Eternity to Time is, of course, 
very simple. Time — finite Time — is simply a part of Eter- 
nity. 

We pass on to the deeper meanings of Eternity. But 
first I should wish to say that, although it may be a shallow 
view of Eternity to see nothing in it but unending Time, yet 
I cannot regard the question of unending existence in time 
with the contempt with which it is sometimes treated. If, 
for example, it were proved that the true nature of man was 
timelessly eternal, yet I cannot see that the question of his 
future existence in time would be either unmeaning or un- 
important. It would, on any theory, have as much meaning 
as the statement of his present existence in time — ^which may 
be partially inadequate, but has certainly some meaning. 
And it may very well have great importance. This, how- 
ever, is a digression. 

3. The second sense in which Eternity is used is to de- 
note that timelessness which is said to be possessed by all 
general laws, and, indeed, by all truths, particular as well 
as general. * * The angles of a triangle are equal to two right 
angles." **The fiash of a distant cannon is seen before its 
report is heard.'' **The date of the Battle of Waterloo is 
the 18th of June, 1815. ' ' Of these truths the last two have 
reference to time, and the third is not a general law, but a 
particular fact. Yet, it is said, all three truths are timeless. 
Any man 's knowledge of them, indeed, is an event in time. 
It begins at a certain moment, and has a certain duration. 
And there may well have been times when none of these 
truths was known to any person. But the truth, it is said, 
must be distinguished both from our knowledge of it, which 
is in time, and the subject-matter referred to, which may be 
in time. And the truth, it is said, is always timeless. 

There is much to be said for this view ; but also, I think, 
something to be said against it. I do not propose to discuss 



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it here. It would take us too far, and is not essential for 
our purpose. For, if we define Eternity in this manner, the 
relation of Eternity to Time is very simple. It is simply 
the relation of a truth to the subject-matter of the truth. 
About every substance existing in time, and about every 
event in time, however slight or ephemeral, many proposi- 
tions — indeed, an infinite number of propositions — ^will be 
true. And since, on this view, nothing that exists will be 
eternal, but only the truths about them, the relation between 
Eternity and Time will simply be a case of the relation be- 
tween a truth and the reality of which it is true. What that 
relation is, constitutes, indeed, a highly interesting question. 
But the special natures of Eternity and Time will not enter 

into it. 

Nor does the establishment of an Eternity, in this sense, 
give us any fresh view of the nature of reality, or afford us 
a glimpse of any greater permanence or stability in the uni- 
verse than appears on a prima facie view of experience. 
Everything, no doubt, has on this view a certain connection 
with Eternity. But everything has exactly the same con- 
nection, and that without any transformation of its nature, 
but taking it just as it appears. We can look at ourselves 
sub quadam specie aetemitatis, for each of us exists, and the 
truth of his existence is eternal. But then — for an hour or 
two — a bridge-party exists, and it can be looked at sub 
quadam specie asternitatis, as easily as a human being. 
And so can the bubbles in a glass of soda-water — I do not 
mean the substance of the water, but the shape which it 
assumes for a moment. 

And even events have the same timelessness. If I 
gneezed on last Christmas day, the truth which expresses 
that event is, in this meaning of Eternity, as eternal as 
the truth of love, or of man's existence, or of God's exist- 
ence, if he exist. No person and no thing are eternal on 
this view. But about everything, permanent, ephemeral, 
high and low, there are infinite eternal truths. The con- 



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elusion may be correct, but it cannot be called very interest- 
ing or significant. 

The contemplation of eternal truths, indeed, may be in 
the highest degree interesting and significant, though 
whether it is — as Spinoza seems to have held — the highest 
activity of which spirit is capable may be doubted. But 
then the contemplation of eternal truths is not itself a 
truth. It is an activity. And it cannot, therefore, be eter- 
nal in the sense which we have so far discussed. 

4. We pass to the third meaning of Eternity, which will 
occupy us for the rest of the paper, in which it is used of 
the timelessness of existences. Existence is, I think, like 
Time, too ultimate to admit of definition. But it is not 
difficult to determine the denotation of the word. In so far 
as substances, or the qualities and relations of substances, 
are real at all, they exist. In so far as events are real, they 
exist. On the other hand, if truths, and the ideas which are 
the constituent parts of truths, have any independent real- 
ity, it is not a reality of existence — though of course our 
perceptions of such truths exist, since they are psychical 
events. Thus the Emperor of China exists. His moral 
character, and the reciprocal influences between him and his 
subjects exist. So do the events of his daily life. On the 
other hand the Law of Excluded Middle, the Law of gravi- 
tation, and other true propositions do not exist, although 
my knowledge of the Law of Excluded Middle exists as an 
event in my mind. 

Whatever is temporal exists. This seems to be generally 
admitted, for those thinkers who hold that truths and ideas 
have a reality which is not existence, admit that such reality 
would be timeless. Whatever is temporal then, and is real 
at all, exists. But is the converse true ? Is all existence 
temporal ? 

All existence which presents itself as part of our or- 
dinary world of experience presents itself as temporal. But 
there may be reality which does not present itself to us in 



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the ordinary course of things, though search may reveal its 
presence. And, again, a thing may present itself in a more 
or less deceptive fashion. And it is frequently maintained 
that we have reason to believe that some reality which exists, 
exists timelessly — not merely in the sense that its existence 
endures through unending time, but in the deeper sense that 
it is not in time at all. 

5. The possibility of timeless existence has been denied. 
Lotze, for example, makes time an essential characteristic of 
existence — his terminology is different but it comes to this. 
But the general opinion of thinkers has been the other way. 
For most men have believed in the existence of a God, and 
most of those who have not believed in a God have believed 
in the existence of some impersonal Absolute. And God or 
the Absolute has generally been conceived as timeless. This 
has not been universal. Lotze regards God as existing in 
time. And among theological writers there have doubtless 
been some who, when they called God eternal, only meant 
that he existed through endless time, or that his nature did 
not change. But as a rule philosophy and theology have 
held that God exists timelessly. 

It seems to me that this opinion — that timeless existence 
is possible — is correct. To exist and to be in time seem to 
me two characteristics, each quite distinct from the other. 
And, while it seems clear that nothing could be in time 
without existing, I fail to see any corresponding impossibil- 
ity in something existing without being in time. If so, time- 
less existence is possible. Whether it is actual — whether we 
have reason to believe that anything does exist out of time 
— is a question which I shall not discuss in this paper. My 
object here is only to discuss the relation of existence in 
Time to existence in Eternity, should there be any such eter- 
nal existence. 

6. We, who are endeavoring to estimate the relation, ap- 
pear to ourselves to exist in time, whether we really do so 
or not. It is not strange, therefore, that men should have 



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endeavored to express their relation to the Eternal by terms 
borrowed from Time, and to say that the Eternal is present, 
past, or future. We shall consider which of these terms is 
the most appropriate metaphor, and whether any of them 
are more than metaphors. 

In the first place, we may consider that existence in Time 
and existence in Eternity are equally real. Then, since the 
same thing clearly cannot exist both in time and timelessly 
— if both predicates are taken in the same sense and as 
equally real — the only possibility would be that some exist- 
ent being was in time, and some existent being was out of it. 
(This is exemplified in the very common theological view, 
according to which God exists timelessly, but everything else 
exists in time.) What would the relation be, in such a case, 
between the temporal and the eternal 1 

The eternal is often spoken of, under these circum- 
stances, as an ** eternal present." As a metaphor this has, 
as we shall see, some appropriateness, but it cannot, I think, 
be taken as more than a metaphor. ** Present'' is not like 
** existence'' a predicate which can be applied in the same 
sense to the temporal and the timeless. On the contrary, its 
meaning seems to include a distinct reference to time, and a 
distinct reference to past and future. The Present has been 
future and will be past. I do not say this is an adequate 
definition of the present, but it does seem to be an essential 
characteristic of the present. If so, the timeless cannot be 
present. The eternal, the timeless, must be distinguished 
from what exists unchanged in time. The Pyramids exist 
in time, but they have existed through thousands of years, 
through all of which they have been present. And suppos- 
ing that human beings were really in time, but also im- 
mortal, we could say of every man, after he had been bom, 
that he would be endlessly present, since in every moment 
of future time he would exist. But persistence through 
time is, as we have seen, quite a different thing from time- 
less existence. 



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7. There is one reason which has, I think, led to regard- 
ing the eternal as an eternal present, which rests on a con- 
fusion. Of anything which exists in time, my judgment 
**It is true that X exists now" is true when X is in the 
present and not when X is in the future or past. Now sup- 
posing that Z exists eternally, my judgment * * It is now true 
that Z exists" will be always true. Hence, I believe, it is 
sometimes supposed that Z is always present. But this is a 
confusion. For **It is now true that Z exists," where the 
*'now" refers to the truth of the judgment that Z exists, is 
by no means the same as **It is true that Z exists now," 
where the **now" refers to the existence of Z. A judgment 
is a psychical event in my mind, and is in time, even if I am 
judging of the timeless, so that **now" is an appropriate 
word to use about it. But **now" cannot be used about the 
existence of the timeless itself. 

8. As a metaphor, however, there is considerable fitness 
in calling the eternal a present. In the first place, the 
future and the past are always changing their positions in 
regard to us. The future is always coming nearer, while 
yet remaining future. The past is always going farther 
away, while yet remaining past. The present, however, 
while it remains present, does not change in this way. It is 
continually being born out of what was the future. It is 
continually changing into the past. But as present it does 
not change in its relation to us. 

This affords a certain analogy to the timeless which, of 
course, is not capable of change. The timeless does not 
change, and therefore, nothing in the timeless can bring it 
nearer to us or farther from us. And the constancy which 
this involves has an analogy with the constancy of the pres- 
ent while it remains present. 

9. In the second place the present is always regarded as 
having more reality than the past or future. So much is 
this the case that we feel no inappropriateness in saying of 
something which is not existing at present that it does not 



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exist. We should not feel the expression unusual if we said 
that the Holy Roman Empire does not exist, which is the 
same expression we should use of More's Utopia. And yet 
we no more mean to deny the past existence of the Holy 
Roman Empire than we mean to deny the present existence 
of the United Kingdom. Now the eternal does not appear 
with the diminished reality of the past and future. It has 
all the reality of which its nature admits. And the eternal 
is generally considered as more real than the temporal, for, 
when some reality is held to be eternal and some temporal, 
it is God or the Absolute which is considered eternal, and 
the created or finite which is considered temporal. It will 
thus resemble the reality of the present more than the reality 
of the past or future, and so it will be an appropriate meta- 
phor to regard it as present. This is especially the case 
when we consider our emotions toward the eternal — a point 
of great importance since the eternal in this case would be, 
as we have just said, God or the Absolute. It is clear that 
the emotions of a man who loved an eternal God would stand 
much closer to the emotions of a man who loved a being 
existent in present time than they would the emotions of a 
man who loved a being who had ceased to exist, or who had 
not yet come into existence. 

10. In the third place it must be remembered that it is 
only the present, and not the past or future, which we re- 
gard as capable of exercising immediate causal influence. 
The future is not conceived as being a cause at all — since 
causality always goes towards what comes later, and never 
back towards what is earlier. The past is certainly regarded 
as acting as a cause, but not immediately. The past has pro- 
duced the present, and so is the remote cause of what the 
present is now occupied in producing. But it is not the im- 
mediate cause of what is now being produced. This, I 
think, is the inevitable way of looking at causality in con- 
nection with time. If it leads to contradictions — and I do 
not say that it does not — they are contradictions which 



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spring from the nature of time. They may affect our judg- 
ment as to whether time is ultimately real, but we cannot 
get rid of them while we are looking at things in time. 

Now the eternal can be looked on as a cause. I do not 
wish to enquire whether the view is correct, which is often 
held, that the eternal can be the sole cause of anything. But 
there is no doubt that, if anything eternal exists, it can be a 
part-cause of an effect, so that the result would be different 
from what it would have been except for that eternal being. 
And the causation of this eternal being must be regarded 
as immediate, in the same way as the causation of a being 
present in time. For this reason, also, then, the present is 
an appropriate metaphor for the eternal. But it cannot be 
more than a metaphor. Presentness involves time, and can- 
not be predicated of the timeless. 

11. We must now consider another theory on the subject 
of timeless existence. This holds that all existence is really 
timeless, and that the prima facie appearance of Time which 
our experience presents is, in reality, only an appearance, 
which disguises the nature of the timeless reality. In this 
case we shall not, as in the previous case, divide all existence 
into two facts, one eternal and one temporal. All existence 
will be eternal. And though this will exclude the possibil- 
ity of any of it being really temporal, yet it will leave the 
possibility open that some, or even all, of it may appear to 
us as temporal. 

The theory of the unreality of Time is doubtless very 
difficult to grasp fully. And doubtless it presents very 
many difficulties. I do not intend, in this paper, to advocate 
it, or even to develop it at length, but merely to consider, as 
before, what would be the relation of Time to Eternity, 
should the theory be true. It cannot be doubted that it is 
worth while to consider the consequences of this theory. For 
it is one which is very largely held by philosophers. The 
exact nature of Eternity in Spinoza's philosophy, and its 
relation to time is a very difficult problem, especially since 



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12 

it is not improbable that Spinoza himself did not distinguish 
with sufficient clearness between the timelessness of truths 
and the timelessness of existence. But the doctrine that all 
reality is timeless was unquestionably held by Kant— though 
he would not perhaps have used this expression. It was 
held by Schopenhauer. It was a fundamental doctrine of 
Hegel's philosophy, and in this respect Hegelians have fol- 
lowed their master more closely than has been the case with 
other doctrines. And, at the present day, it is held by the 
greatest of living philosophers, Mr. Bradley. If we turn 
from philosophers to theologians we shall find the same doc- 
trine. The view that all reality is timeless is not so general, 
of course, among theologians, as the view that some reality 
is timeless. But theology has never in any country or in 
any age, remained for long together untouched by mysticism. 
And the unreality of time, although it is not held by all 
mystics, is one of the most characteristic mystical tenets. 

Once more in the Far East, where philosophy and theol- 
ogy do not admit even of that partial distinction which is 
possible in the West, we find the doctrine of the unreality of 
time assumes cardinal importance. 

A theory which has attracted so much support, and 
which continues to attract so much at the present day, must, 
right or wrong, have much to be said in its favor. Teachers 
so great, and so different, do not adopt such a doctrine with- 
out grave reasons. For my part I am convinced that in 
spite of the very great difficulties which belong to the theory, 
it must be accepted as true. But at present I am merely 
concerned to point out that, whether the theory be true or 
false, it is no waste of time to consider any consequences 
that would follow from accepting it. 

12. What is the precise description which we must give 
to Time on this theory 1 We cannot call it a mistake, for to 
perceive things in time does not necessarily involve an er- 
roneous judgment. If a person who perceives things as in 
time believes that they really are in time, that would of 



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course be an erroneous judgment. But if the theory is true, 
a person who believed the theory would not be making any 
erroneous judgments on the subject. His judgment would 
be * * I perceive things as in time, and I cannot perceive them 
any other way, but they are not really in time, but time- 
less.*' In this judgment there would be no error. And 
thus the perception of things in time must not be called a 
mistake. It hides, more or less, the true nature of things, 
but it does not involve making any false judgment about 
their nature. 

And since the perception of things in time does not neces- 
sarily involve an error, it follows that, when the error has 
been there, and is removed, it will not alter the perception 
of things in time. If I begin by holding the view — which 
may be wrong, but is certainly the most obvious view — ^that 
things are really in time, and are then convinced by philo- 
sophical arguments that they are really timeless, I shall, 
none the less, continue to perceive the things in time. 

Thus we must conceive our perception of things in time 
to be an illusion, of the same character as those which make 
us see the sun at sunset larger than at midday, and make us 
see a straight stick crooked when it enters the water. I do 
not, after childhood, suppose the stick to be really crooked. 
But however clearly I may satisfy myself, either by reason- 
ing or by the sense of touch, that the stick has not changed 
its shape since it was put in the water, I shall continue to 
get visual sensations from it resembling those which would 
be given me by a crooked stick in the air. Of this sort is the 
illusion of time — though it is far more general, and far more 
difficult to grasp. It hides part of the truth, it suggests a 
wrong judgment — for the obvious conclusion from our ex- 
perience, as I said just now, is to hold that things are really 
in time. But it does not necessarily involve a wrong judg- 
ment, and it is not removed by a right judgment. 

13. What relation, then, does Time bear to Eternity on 
such a theory as this? The answer will, I thing, vary. 



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When we see existence under the form of time, the theory 
tells us, to see it more or less as it really is not. At the same 
time, the appearance is not mere illusion. We perceive, in 
spite of this illusive form of time, some of the real nature 
of the timeless reality. So if we look through a window of 
red glass we shall see the objects outside correctly as to their 
form, size, and motion, though not correctly as to their color. 
The question is, of course, much more complicated here. We 
cannot get round on the other side of time, as we can on the 
other side of the glass, and so discover by direct observation 
what part of our previous experience was due to the form of 
time. And to reach and justify an idea of what the true 
timeless nature of existence may be is a very hard task, 
though I think not an impossible one. We must content 
ourselves here with the general results that where existence 
appears to us under the form of time, we see it partly, but 
not entirely, as it really is. 

Thus the way in which, at any moment of time, we re- 
gard existence is more or less inadequate. And it seems to 
me that the relation of time to Eternity depends on the 
relative inadequacy of our view of reality at different mo- 
ments of time. 

The decisive question — this is the theory I wish to put 
before you — is whether there is any law according to which 
states in time, as we pass from earlier states to later, tend 
to become more adequate or less adequate representations of 
the timeless reality. 

14. Let us first consider what would happen if there were 
no such law. In that case there would be no tendency for 
the future, because it was future, to resemble the timeless 
reality more or less than the present does. There might be 
oscillations, even then, in the adequacy with which time rep- 
resented Eternity. At one moment my view of the universe 
might distort the truth either more or less than my view 
of the moment before had distorted it. But such oscil- 
lations are like the waves of the sea. At a particular 



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moment the surface at a particular point may be higher than 
at the moment before. But this does not give us the least 
reason for concluding that an hour later on it will also be 
higher than it was at the past moment, or that the average 
height is rising. 

If the adequacy of the time-representations is in this con- 
dition, the relation of Time to Eternity will, I think, be ex- 
pressible in the same way in which we expressed it when 
Time and Eternity were taken as equally real. That is to 
say, the most appropriate metaphor for the relation is to 
consider Eternity as a present, but this is nothing more than 
a metaphor. 

The metaphor is appropriate for the same reasons as it 
was before. In the first place, the relation of Eternity to 
time is constant. In some particular moments of time we 
may, as I have said, get a less adequate representation of 
Eternity than at others, but if we take time as a whole it 
neither approximates to Eternity nor diverges from it. 
And, for the reasons explained above, there is a certain ap- 
propriateness in using presentness as a metaphor for this 
unchanging relation. 

In the second place, the metaphor is appropriate here, 
as it was before, to express the reality of the eternal. The 
eternal has not that diminished reality which we attribute 
to the past and the future. Indeed, its reality is relatively 
greater here than it was on the other theory. In that theory 
the Eternal was generally the most real, for it generally in- 
cluded God or the Absolute. But here it is an inevitable 
result of the theory that the Eternal is not only the most 
real, but the only true reality. It is more important than 
before, therefore, to express it by a metaphor drawn from 
the greatest reality in time. 

In the third place, the Eternal must certainly, on this 
theory, be regarded as exercising immediate causal influence, 
or, rather, as having a quality of which causal influence is 
an imperfect representation. For everything depends on 
the nature of the eternal, which is the only true reality. 



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16 



At the same time, to say that the eternal is eternally 
present remains a metaphor only. It is not a literally cor- 
rect description. For the present, as we saw, is essentially 
a time-determination, and the eternal is not in Time. 

15. So far, I think, I have not said much that is contro- 
versial, and certainly nothing that I should claim as original. 
But I have now a thesis to put forward which, whether it is 
original or not, is certainly controversial. I submit that al- 
though to us, who judge from the midst of the time-series, 
the presentness of the eternal can never be more than a 
metaphor, yet, under certain conditions, the assertion that 
the eternal was past or future might be much more than a 
metaphor. This statement will doubtless seem highly para- 
doxical. The eternal is the timeless, and how can the time- 
less have a position in the time-series ? Still, I believe this 
position can be defended, and I will now attempt to sketch 

» 

my defense of it. 

16. So far we have considered what would happen if 
there were no law according to which states in time, as we 
pass from earlier states to later, tend to become more 
adequate or less adequate representations of the timeless 
reality. But what would happen if there were such a law ? 

Events in time take place in an order — a fixed and ir- 
reversible order. The flash of a distant cannon is perceived 
before the report. The report is not perceived before the 
flash. The Battle of Waterloo was fought before the Re- 
form Bill was passed. The Reform Bill was not passed be- 
fore the Battle of Waterloo was fought. Now what deter- 
mines this order ? 

The mere form of time does not do so. If things happen 
in time they must happen in an order, and a fixed and ir- 
reversible order. So much the nature of time demands. 
But it gives us no help as to what the order shall be. If 
the Battle of Waterloo and the passing of the Reform Bill 
are to take place in time at all, the nature of time requires 
either that they shall be simultaneous or that the Battle shall 



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precede the Bill, or that the Bill shall precede the Battle. 
But it gives us no help towards determining which of these 
three alternatives shall be taken. 

What does determine the order of events in time, on the 
supposition, which we are now discussing, that Time is only 
an illusory way of regarding a timeless reality ? I believe 
myself that there is good reason to hold that the order is de- 
termined by the adequacy with which the states represent 
the eternal reality, so that those states come next together 
which only vary infinitesimally in the degree of their ad- 
equacy, and that the whole of the time-series shows a steady 
process of change of adequacy— I do not say yet in which 

direction. 

I think something can be said towards proving this state- 
ment, but it would want far more than a single lecture to 
say it, and I do not propose even to sketch it now. Nor is it 
necessary for our present purpose, which is only to consider 
what the relation of Time to Eternity would be under vari- 
ous circumstances. Let us now proceed to consider what 
that relation would be under these circumstances. 

17. Let us suppose, then, that the states of the time-series 
were such that each state was a more adequate expression of 
the reality than the state on one side of it, and a less ad- 
equate representation of reality than the state on the other 
side of it, so that they formed a continuous series in respect 
of the adequacy of their representation. And let us sup- 
pose that the most adequate of these representations— which 
will be, of course, at one end of the series— differs from the 
reality it represents only by an infinitesimal amount. What 
is the relation here between Time and Eternity? 

This will depend upon the direction in the series in which 
greater adequacy is to be found. It may be, in the first 
place, that the later stages of the time-series are more ad- 
equate than the earlier stages. In that case the present 
stage will be more adequate than any of the past, and less 
adequate than any of the future. 



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We may go further than this. If time is unreal, as we 
have supposed, then the illusion that time exists can no more 
be in time than anything else can. The time-series, though 
a series which gives us the illusion of Time, is not itself in 
time. And the series is really therefore just a series of rep- 
resentations, some more adequate and some less adequate, 
arranged in the order of their adequacy. This — the series 
of adequacy — is the only serial element which remains as 
real, if time is to be condemned as unreal. 

When, therefore, we say that a certain stage in the time- 
series is still in the future, the real truth, if the theory we 
are considering is correct, is that the stage in question is a 
less inadequate representation of the timeless reality of 
existence than our present stage. 

Now the timeless reality itself contains all its own nature. 
And therefore it will stand to the least inadequate of the 
representations of itself as this stands to the next least in- 
adequate, and so on. Since, by our hypothesis, the repre- 
sentations of reality in the time-series approach the reality 
till the inadequacy finally becomes infinitesimal, the last of 
the series of time-representations will differ only infinites- 
imally from the reality itself. And, since time is contin- 
uous, the stage before the last will differ from the last in 
the same way — by being infinitesimally less adequate. 

Thus the timeless reality — the Eternal — may itself be 
considered as the last stage in a series, of which the other 
stages are those which we perceive as the time-series, — those 
stages nearest to the timeless reality being those which we 
perceive as the later stages in time. When, therefore, we 
are looking at things as in time — as we must look at them — 
we must conceive the Eternal as the final stage in the time- 
process. We must conceive it as being in the future, and 
as being the end of the future. Time runs up to Eternity, 
and ceases in Eternity. 

18. This conclusion will doubtless be rejected by many 
people without further examination as grossly absurd. How 



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can the timeless have a position at the end of a time-series? 
How can Eternity begin when Time ceases ? How can Eter- 
nity begin at all ? 

The answer to these objections, I think, is as follows : Of 
course, on this view, Eternity is not really future, and does 
not really begin. For Time is unreal, and therefore noth- 
ing can be future, and nothing can begin. What, then, is 
the justification of regarding Eternity as future ? It lies, I 
maintain, in the fact that Eternity is as future as anything 
can be. It is as truly future as tomorrow or next year. 
And, therefore, when, taking Time as real, as we must do in 
everyday life, we are endeavoring to estimate the relation 
of Time to Eternity, we may legitimately say that Eternity 
is future. From the point of view of time, the events of 
to-morrow and next year are future. And if Eternity is as 
truly future as they are, it is legitimate to say that Eternity 
is future. It is not absolutely true but it is as true as any 
other statement about futurity. And it is much truer than 
to say that Eternity is present or past. 

Let us recapitulate. If time is unreal then the time- 
series is a series of more or less adequate representations of 
the timeless reality, and this series itself is not really in time. 
If what determines the position of the stages in the time- 
series is the different degrees of adequacy with which they 
represent the timeless reality, then the series which is not 
really a series in time, is really a series of degrees of ade- 
quacy. If the most adequate of these stages has only in- 
finitesimal inadequacy, then the timeless reality, in its own 
completeness, forms the last stage of the series. And if 
the distinction between earlier and later stages is that the 
later are the more adequate, then— since the future is later 
than the present—we must place the timeless reality in the 
future, and at the end of the future. 

Thus to say that Eternity is future on this theory is far 
more accurate than it was, in the two previous cases, to say 
that Eternity was present. For in those cases Eternity, 



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though it had some analogy to the present, was not as fully 
present as to-day's sunlight is, which is in the fullest sense 
present. But in this case Eternity is as really future as to- 
morrow 's sunlight, which is in the fullest sense future. The 
presentness of Eternity was only a metaphor. Its futurity, 
in this case, is as true as any futurity. 

19. Let us pass to another case. Let us suppose, as be- 
fore, that the truth of the time-series was a series of repre- 
sentations arranged by their degrees of adequacy, and run- 
ning on until the extreme term of the series only differed 
from the timeless reality itself by an infinitesimal amount. 
But let us suppose that the series runs the other way, so that 
it is the more adequate members which appear as the earlier 
stages of the time-series, and the less adequate members 
which appear as the later stages of the time-series. In this 
case we should have to regard the timeless reality as the be- 
ginning of the past, instead of as the end of the future. We 
should have to regard ourselves as having started for it, not 
as destined to reach it. It is obvious that from a practical 
point of view the difference between these two cases may be 
very great — I shall return to the practical importance of 
the relation later on. It seems to me that there are reasons 
for supposing that the first of the two cases is the one which 
really exists, and that Eternity is to be regarded as in the 
future and not as in the past. But our object here is mere- 
ly to realize that, if the second case is true, and it is the 
more adequate members which appear as the earlier, then 
Eternity must be regarded as in the past. 

20. For the sake of completeness we may mention a third 
case, though I think it one which is very improbable. Let 
us suppose that the stages of the series were arranged, not 
simply in order of adequacy, but on some principle which 
placed the least adequate in the middle, and made them more 
adequate as they diverged from this at either end. And let 
us suppose, as before, that the more adequate representa- 
tions only differed from the timeless reality infinitesimally. 



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Then it is clear that the timeless reality would stand to the 
earliest member of the series, as that stood to the next 
earliest. And it is also clear that the timeless reality would 
stand to the latest member as this stood to the next latest. 
And therefore the timeless reality would be a term at each 
end of the series, which would start from it and would re- 
turn to it. In that case we should have to consider the Eter- 
nal both as the beginning of the past, and the end of the 

future. 

21. Thus we see that, under certain suppositions, the 
Eternal may be said to be past or future, not only as a meta- 
phor, but with as much truth as anything else can be past 
or future. But this is not the case about the present. On 
no supposition could we be justified in saying now that the 
Eternal was present. If it were present, it would bear the 
relation to our present position in the time-series that the 
present does— that is, of course, it would have to be identical 
with it. And the timeless reality is certainly not identical 
with a position like our present one, which represents it as 
in time, and, therefore, according to our theory, represents 
it inadequately. On several suppositions, as we have seen 
above, the most appropriate metaphor for the Eternal is 
that of an eternal present. But on no supposition can it be 
more than a metaphor. 

22. It remains to say, as to the cases in which the Eter- 
nal is regarded as being the end of the future or the begin- 
ning of the past, that it is possible that the past or the future 
in question might be infinite in length. I do not see any- 
thing which should exclude this supposition, and enable us 
to assert that the present has been reached in a finite time 
from the Eternal, or that the Eternal will be reached in a 
finite time from the present. 

In mathematics that which only happens at an infinite 
distance is said to be the same as that which never happens 
at all. Thus two parallel straight lines are said to meet at 
an infinite distance. Since mathematicians adopt this meth- 



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23 



od of expression it has probably some real convenience for 
mathematics. But, apart from the conventions of that 
special science, it seems to me that there is a very real differ- 
ence between a series such that it reaches a result after an 
infinitely long process, and a series such that it never reaches 
that result at all. 

Even, therefore, if the series of stages which intervene 
between the present and the timeless reality were such as 
would appear as an infinitely long time, I should see no im- 
propriety in speaking of the timeless reality as the extreme 
stage of the series, from which it started, or to which it at- 
tains. At the same time, I see no more reason to suppose the 
length infinite than to suppose it finite. 

23. I propose to devote the rest of my paper to a con- 
sideration of some aspects of the possibility that it may be 
right to regard Eternity as the end of the future. 

It will be seen that this view has a very strong resemb- 
lance to a very common Christian view. The Christian 
heaven is sometimes looked upon as enduring through un- 
ending time. But it is also often looked upon as a timeless 
state. At the same time, it is generally looked on as in the 
future. We are not in it now. We have not been in it 
before birth — indeed, most Christians deny that we existed 
at all before the birth of our present bodies. We are sep- 
arated from it by death — not, indeed, that death alone would 
place us in it, but that we shall not reach it till we have 
passed through death. 

This has not been the universal view of Christianity, but 
I think it cannot be denied that it has generally been held 
that heaven was in the future. Heaven may be held to be 
a state of the mind, not a place or an environment. But 
still it is a state of the mind which is yet for us in the future. 
**Now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face.*' 
(1st Epistle to the Corinthians, XIII, 12.) The beginning 
may be present here, but not the completion. Moreover, 
even what is attained of it on earth has to be attained, to 



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be gained where it was not before, and so was once in the 
future and is still for many men in the future. 

This view of the Christian heaven has been severely 
criticised lately, both from inside and from outside Chris- 
tianity. It has been said that heaven, if it is perfect, must 
be timeless, and that it is generally admitted to be timeless, 
and that therefore it is absurd to place it in the future, and 
it should rather be regarded as an eternal present. 

The critics have a certain subjective justification. They 
have investigated the relation of Time to Eternity more 
deeply than the majority of those who hold the view criti- 
cised. They have perceived the difficulties of giving Eter- 
nity a place at the end of the time-series, while many of 
those who held that heaven was future had not perceived 
those difficulties at all. Yet we must hold, I submit, that 
the view of heaven as now future might, under certain cir- 
cumstances, be much truer than the view of heaven as now 
present could be under any circumstances. 

Let us recapitulate once more the conditions. The Eter- 
nal can be rightly regarded as future if time is unreal, if the 
series which appears to us as a time-series is a series of rep- 
resentations arranged according to adequacy, if the highest 
of the series only differs by an infinitesimal amount from 
the reality represented, and if it is the more adequate rep- 
resentations which appear as latest in the series. 

Now many people who hold heaven to be future would 
hold that it was attained gradually, by advancing stages 
which got higher till the last led into the timeless perfection 
without any breach of continuity, and that the higher of 
these stages came later. Three of the four conditions are 
thus complied with. The first — that time is unreal — is, of 
course, less frequent. But if this is combined with the 
other three — as it often is, and may very well be — ^then it 
seems to me that the idea of a timeless heaven as future is 
quite justifiable, and that the Christians who held this be- 
lief, while not seeing so deeply as such critics as Mr. Bradley 



24 



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and Mr. Haldane, had in point of fact grasped the truth, 
though without seeing very clearly why it was true. 

24. The practical importance of the question whether the 
Eternal can be regarded as future appears to me to be enor- 
mous. The supreme question, from the point of view of 
practical importance, is whether good or evil predominates 
in the universe, and in what proportion. The practical im- 
portance of philosophy consists, not in the guidance it gives 
us in life — it gives us, I think, very little — but in the chance 
that it may answer this supreme question in a cheerful man- 
ner, that it may provide some solution which shall be a con- 
solation and an encouragement. 

In what way can we hope to do this ? It cannot be done 
by empirical induction. Even granting that we have evi- 
dence for coming to a favorable conclusion about the state 
of people on this planet at the present time — and this is all 
we can know empirically — it would be far too small a basis 
for an induction which would give us even the least proba- 
bility as to the universe as a whole through the whole of 
time. 

The belief in a God who is on the side of the good has 
been one of the supports on which men have most often 
tried to base an optimistic solution of this question. But, 
even if we accept the existence of such a God, it will not by 
itself afford sufficient ground for what we seek. We are 
wrecked against the old difficulty — the difficulty which 
Augustine stated with perfect clearness, and which theists, 
in all the centuries that havo passed, have never avoided. 
Either God can do everything he likes, and then evil, since 
it exists, cannot be repugnant to him, and his existence af- 
fords no ground for limiting its extent or duration. Or 
else God cannot do everything he likes, and then we cannot 
be certain that evil, in spite of God's efforts, may not pre- 
dominate over good now, and be destined to increase in the 
future. 

Attempts have been made to prove the predominance 



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of good from the intrinsic nature of good and evil. But 
here, as it seems to me, any argument which proves anything 
proves too much, for they all tend to prove that there is no 
evil at all. And such an argument may, I fear, be dismissed 
as a reductio ad absurdum. 

25. What other course remains — to those of us who are 
not so happily constituted as to be able to believe a thing 
because we want to believe it? One attempted solution re- 
mains — ^that on which was reared the most magnificent op- 
timism that philosophy has ever seen, the optimism of 
Hegel. This solution rests on the unreality of Time. Only 
the Eternal reality exists, and the Eternal is perfectly good. 
All the evil which we suppose to be in existence is part of 
the Time-element which we wrongly suppose to be in exist- 
ence. And so there is no evil at all. 

This solution, however, in the form which it takes with 
Hegel, will not give us what we seek. In the first place, it 
has really no optimistic result. To tell us that evil is unreal 
does not make what we think to be evil in the least less un- 
pleasant to suffer or in the least less depressing to expect. 
And even if it had that effect on the people who know the 
truth, how about the people who do not know it? The only 
ground of optimism would be found in a belief that this 
illusion of evil was limited in quantity or transitory in ap- 
parent duration. And the assertion of its unreality would 
not permit us to limit the extent or the duration of our il- 
lusion of its reality. 

In the second place, I do not think that the theory can 
be accepted as true. It is possible that there is no sin in 
existence — indeed, if time is unreal, it seems inevitable that 
there should be no sin. It is even possible that there should 
be no pain — though that is not so simple. But evil is 
wider than sin or pain. And it seems, to me at any rate, 
certain that even the illusion that I am sinful or in pain is 
evil. I may not be really sinful or really in pain, but in 
some sense the illusion of the sin or pain exists, and that is 



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26 



a real evil. If we doubt it, let us ask whether we should not 
think the universe better if a given illusion of sin or pain 
v/as replaced with an experience of virtue or pleasure. Or 
let us ask whether we should not blame a creator who need- 
lessly inserted such illusions into the universe he created. 

26. But if we abandon the attempt to base an optimistic 
solution on the unreality of time through the unreality of 
evil, yet there is another way in which the unreality of time 
may help us. 

It is a certain fact — which may some day be accounted 
for, but which cannot be denied, whether it is accounted for 
or not — that good and evil in the future affect us quite dif- 
ferently from good and evil in the past. Let us suppose 
two men, one of whom had been very happy for a million 
years, and was just about to become very miserable for 
another million years, while the other had been very miser- 
able for a million years and was now about to be very happy 
for the same period. If we suppose them to remember the 
past and to be certain of the future, it is certain that the 
second would be in a very much more desirable position than 
the first, although the total amount of life which each would 
be contemplating shows exactly the same amount of pleasure 
and pain. 

Past evil, as such, does not sadden us like future evil. 
We may be saddened by the results which it has left behind 
in the present, or which may be expected to appear in the 
future — if those results are themselves evil, which of course 
is not always the case with the present results of past evils. 
Or the remembrance of past evil may remind us that the 
universe is not wholly good, and make us fear for evil in 
the future. And a particular past evil may give us, not 
merely this general apprehension, but particular reasons to 
fear some particular future evil. And, once more, if past 
evil has been caused by the wickedness of any person, the 
fact that the evil has passed away will not affect the fact 
that the responsible person is still wicked, unless indeed he 
has improved and repented. 



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27. If, therefore, we arrived at a theory of the universe 
which was unable to deny the existence of evil, or to assert 
that over the whole of time good predominated over evil, or 
that it did so at present, there would be still a chance for 
optimism. If such a theory were able to assert that, what- 
ever the state of the universe now, it would inevitably im- 
prove, and the state of each conscious individual in it would 
inevitably improve, until they reaxihed a final state of per- 
fect goodness, or at least of very great goodness— surely 
this would be accepted as a cheerful theory. Surely this 
would give, as much as any belief can give, consolation and 
encouragement in the evils of the present. Indeed, it is 
nearly as favorable a theory as could be framed, for if we 
went much beyond this in the direction of optimism, we 
should soon reach the denial of evil, and then, as was said 
above, our theory would break itself against facts which 

cannot be denied. 

28. But how could such a theory be established? No 
empirical evidence which we could reach would afford even 
the slightest presumption in favor of such a vast conclusion. 
And how can we prove a priori that good will predominate 
over evil more in the future than it has in the past, or than 
it does in the present ? What link can a priori reasoning 
find between the later and the better. 

I do not see how it can be done if Time is to be taken as 
real. But if Time is unreal, I do see a possibility— more I 
do not venture to say at present^-of such a demonstration. 
I do see a possibility of showing that the timeless reality 
would be, I do not say unmixedly good, but very good, bet- 
ter than anything which we can now experience or even 
imagine. I do see a possibility of showing that all that 
hides this goodness from us— in so far as it is hidden— is the 
illusion of time. And I do see a possibility of showing that 
the different representations which appear to us as the time- 
series are in such an order that those which appear as later 
are the more adequate, and the last only infinitesimally dif- 



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28 



f era from the timeless reality. In that case we must look on 
the Eternal as the end of Time ; and on Time as essentially 
the process by which we reach to the Eternal and its per- 
fection. 

The reality of the Eternal can only have comfort for us, 
then, if we conceive it as future, since it is to the future 
that optimism must look. Nor do I see how we can regard 
the future optimistically unless we regard it as the progres- 
sive manifestation of the Eternal. Whether this can be 
done, will be for the future to pronounce — the possibilities 
of which I have spoken may prove to be demonstrations or 
to be the merest fallacies. Only I do see a chance of a 
happy solution in the relation of Time to Eternity, and, as 
philosophy stands at present, I see it nowhere else. 



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